We believed that self-love was essential and, both of us being writers, we wanted to find an adjective that conveyed not only the relief that self-love would bring, but also the struggle that would be required if we were going to overcome the painful, negative, fearful thoughts that ran amok in our minds. We decided that nothing short of Absolute Self-Love would get us through, and we helped each other remember that self-love was an option on those days when despair or self-loathing seemed the only appropriate response to our circumstances.
I'm sharing because honesty and openness about my journey helps me, not only to release painful energy but also to welcome loving energy and kinship with readers and friends who message me to let me know how my story touched them. This first year without Doug is dedicated to my personal healing, and, as I heal I wish to help others heal as well. So, on to my list.
Dr. Annie's Top 3 Acts of Absolute Self-Love
1. I Gave Myself Permission To End My Life.
During Doug's illness, and especially when he was in at-home hospice care, I relished in every opportunity to shower him with affection and receive affection from him. We were very open with each other about our thoughts and emotions, and although we tried our best to be present in each moment and not focus on his death, we both knew what was coming and we both grieved for me, knowing that I would have to continue on without him.
One evening, after a very long and taxing day, I fell down the stairs when Doug was in the bathroom. I remember uncontrollably sliding down the stairs, jamming my finger against a bookcase, and crying, "Ouch, ouch ouch!" with every step. Through my tears, I called out "I'm okay!" because I didn't want Doug to hurt himself while trying to come help me. He came anyway (of course he did), sat behind me on the top stair and held me while I let out wracking, devastated sobs.
Sitting there with my dying husband holding me, knowing that his perfect blend of strength and tenderness would soon be gone, I honestly could envision ending my life after Doug died. After a few moments, Doug stood up, helped me rise and took me into the bathroom where he dressed the bloody scrapes on my arms.
Later, after Doug had fallen asleep, I took out my journal and gave myself permission, in writing, to end my life if I wanted to. I promised to wait at least six months after he died, because if I did end my life I didn't want it to be a rash decision.
How can permission for suicide be an act of self-love? I considered it loving because by doing it I released myself from any sense of obligation to other people, or even to my sweet dog. I affirmed that I was only truly responsible for myself. In other words, I freed myself from the illusion that I am responsible for other people's emotions, actions, and personal development, and I gave my attention to myself.
I even saved three bottles of Doug's strong pain medications, just in case I chose to use them. Giving myself permission to think about using them helped me be more attentive to myself on those agonizing days when I wanted to die. Knowing I didn't "have" to live, didn't "have" to do anything to satisfy or please anyone else, made me bolder about asking for help.
Rather than increasing my desire to die, this action brought ease and openness to living. Choosing to live became another act of self-love, not an obligation.
Even as I write about this it doesn't seem logical, but nonetheless it's been essential to my survival. Three days ago I dropped Doug's prescriptions into the bin at Walgreens, letting go of that security blanket, once more choosing to live.
2. I Let Go Of My Diet
Right after Doug died I signed up for a very strict, medically supervised weight loss program. I'd gained about 80lbs and wanted to release them as quickly as possible. The structure and weekly check-ins required by the program also felt comforting to me at a time when everything else in my life was in chaos.
I lost 15lbs in the first two weeks! Yay! I also got sores in my nose and mouth, a reaction to the medication. Not yay!
Although I wanted to continue with the program, I had to admit that it was harming me more than helping, so I stopped it. For a while I was able to choose healthier food and beverages, but I noticed that when I did that, when I avoided sugar and processed food & drinks without taking any medication to affect my appetite, my emotions not only rose to the surface, they overwhelmed me. Even with counseling sessions, I could not function in my day-to-day life without numbing my emotions.
I really did want to choose to live, and I wanted to avoid numbing out with drugs or alcohol, so I gave myself permission to "medicate" with crappy food and sugary drinks. Did I enjoy it? Not really. Did it enable me to sleep and to make it through most days without sobbing uncontrollably? Yes.
Progress is progress.
3. I Invested In My Own Healing
Soon after I received Doug's life insurance payment last January, I scheduled and paid for two immersive, week-long healing retreats. One will begin a week from today and the other will occur over the anniversary of Doug's passing, in November. I chose these retreats because they met these criteria: 1) I will not have to make any decisions. Lodging, meals and activities will be planned by someone else; 2) Meals will be organic, lovingly prepared and considerate of my food sensitivities (to help me become more considerate of them once I return home); and 3) The environment will be deeply nurturing and calm.
I scheduled these retreats in August and November because I sensed that I wouldn't be ready right after Doug passed, and I was right. With the help of loving friends and family I have made SO much progress over the past eight months! And I know that I will make much more progress with the help of the professionals who will guide me on these retreats.
Back in January when I purchased my airline tickets, I hesitated about buying extra leg room. My mind wavered between my old way of thinking, (pre-Doug), "You're spending so much money on yourself already, the economy seats will be good enough," and imagining Doug's voice saying, "You deserve the best! Buy the extra leg room! It isn't even a question; of course you should have it." Doug had said similar things to me so many times that I silently thanked him and smiled as I clicked on the "add" button and imagined stretching out in my seat on the plane.
Today is my birthday. Today I choose to LIVE.